Shame on me: Third Culture Kids & Shame by Robynn
Two Sundays ago our Pastor started an enormously brave sermon series on shame. Since shame only regains its power when it’s kept secret, when no one is talking about it–speaking about it, naming it, bringing it into the light—from the pulpit, no less, is remarkably courageous.
I find myself stirred up and I’m not entirely sure why.
Brené Brown defines shame in Daring Greatly as, “…the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging.” Deep inside we are petrified of disengagement or disconnection from our community. We are afraid we won’t belong if we are truly known. Brown also talks about shame in terms of scarcity, often revealed in completing the phrase: Never______ enough. Never good enough. Never perfect enough. Never thin enough. Never powerful enough. Never smart enough. Never safe enough. Never extraordinary enough.
It strikes me that this is an issue the Third Culture Kid is especially familiar with. We know what it means to be deeply afraid of not belonging. We feel our differences keenly. We experience that lack of connection constantly. Our engagements, our connections, are fragile at best. We fear ridicule. We are afraid to make mistakes. It’s easier to stay quiet than to share our stories and experiences, which rarely translate. We struggle to be seen and heard. There is this core feeling, this deep sense that we aren’t enough, we aren’t acceptable where we are, we don’t belong.
Or at least that’s been my experience.
Never American enough. Never savvy enough. Never culturally adept enough. Never adaptable enough. Never an insider enough.
I live with deep, daily, durable shame.
(And that doesn’t take into account any other shame the TCK might have picked up, innocent or culpable, from life experiences in foreign or familiar places: trauma, body image issues, separation from parents as a result of boarding school, addictions, health issues, faith queries).
“Remembering that shame is the fear of disconnection—the fear that we’re unlovable and don’t belong—makes it easy to see why so many people in midlife over focus on their children’s lives, work sixty hours a week, or turn to affairs, addiction and disengagement. We start to unravel. The expectations and messages that fuel shame keep us from fully realizing who we are as people.” (Daring Greatly, Brené Brown)
Where do we go with our shame? What do we do with this heavy fear of disconnection? When we unravel where do we take our frayed edges? When we reach that midlife unraveling where do we go?
Brené Brown, in Daring Greatly, speaks of how to combat the shame. She talks about vulnerability and courage. Understanding shame and cultivating resilience to shame are pivotal points on the road to becoming real. She suggests practicing courage and reaching out to others in response to our desperate desire to hide. Talking ourselves through the shame like we would talk to someone we love and respect also promotes passing through the moment of shame: You’re okay. You’re human—we all make mistakes. She says we need to own our stories: If you own this story you get to write the ending. Granted…our stories feel a little more complex. The plots feel a little twisted and whole chapters are written in foreign languages.
It’s good and true stuff from Brown. But I’m still left with the pain of my disconnection. I’m still left with a deep longing for belonging. Understanding it, naming it, practicing courage in spite of it, talking myself through it…. Still leaves me, up to my neck, sitting in it. Where do I go now? Where do I take my soul that struggles and simmers with the pain of not belonging, with the hurt of not connecting?
Sunday’s sermon suggested a space to place that soul that still pulses with the shame. There is a balm for the heart that longs to belong.
Pastor Steve proposed a Person who safely welcomes our shame. I can bring my shame to Jesus. And it seems Jesus has a particular affection and affinity for people steeped in shame (both those who are innocent and those who come to their shame by virtue of their choices). Try reading the gospels and consciously choose to identify with a shameful person. Stop and hear how Jesus responds. In other words…pretend to be the woman at the well and imagine Jesus engaging you in that moment. Imagine you are the tax collector and hear how Jesus talks to you in that place. You will hear Jesus’ deep acceptance. You will hear him transplant you from a place of alienation and shame to a place of attachment and belonging. He calls the woman betrayed by her own body and bleeding for twelve years–she who wished to remain invisible– he sees her and he calls her, “Daughter”. Jesus reaches out and touches the untouchable and untouched leper. He makes eye contact with him and proclaims healing over him.
It doesn’t take my longing to belong away….which is disappointing. I still live with the feelings of shame. I’m not sure what to do with all of this yet…but it is comforting to know Jesus isn’t like the others. He doesn’t look away from those of us who live with shame. He doesn’t walk across the street to avoid contact. He doesn’t pretend he doesn’t see me. Jesus deliberately makes eye contact, he walks toward me. He looks deep into my eyes, lifts my chin up and calls me “Daughter!”
I’m trying to soak in the mystery that there really is deep belonging and connection there….
Note from Marilyn – this piece…it’s so good but so hard. It resonates deeply with me. What about others? Weigh in through the comments.